Courtesy of EDP Magazine (www.edp24.co.uk) October 7, 2000 - Author: Sandy Byrne
She may only be 23, but chef Samantha Wegg from Morston Hall has just reached the finals of a prestigious cookery contest.
Samantha Wegg, the young head chef I’ve come to meet at Morston Hall, looks far too young to be the girl I know she is. Amazingly, she’s 23, but that is not very old to have achieved as much as she has. Softly-spoken. Smiling rather diffidently and slightly hiding behind her mane of blonde hair, you have the idea that an interview might prove something of an ordeal for her. And yet you know that there must be very much more than this apparent shyness to Sam, since she has been selected from a gruelling regional heat to go through to the national final of the American Express Young Chef Young Waiter 2000 award.
As we sit down to talk we are joined by her employer and mentor, Galton Blackiston. He is very quick to sing the praises of the girl whose ascent to her current position he has encouraged, right from the day when the nervous college graduate first turned up at the Hall for her interview. “Sam … has been at Morston Hall for five years,” he tells me, “and we’ve never had a bad word, which I assure you is rare in a kitchen. She’s a chip off the old block. When she first came I thought, ‘oh she’s so young, she looks like a little girl!’ (She still does.) And I was used to training boys; I hadn’t had a girl chef here before.”
In those five years, however, Sam has come a long way. To reach the final of this prestigious award is an outstanding achievement by any standards. In fact, she tells me, once the flour-smothered Galton has returned to his pastry-making, she has entered for this competition twice before, reaching the regional finals on both other occasions. This year, though, is the first time she felt she had acquitted herself to the very best of her ability, and obviously her instinct was correct. She goes on to join seven other young chefs, all under 25, for the National Final at Westminster Catering College in London.
“It was Galton who persuaded me to enter,” Sam says, “I’m the sort of person who needs pushing a bit – I tend to hold back and suffer from a lack of confidence. But over the years, with Galton’s support and encouragement, I’ve come to believe in myself a lot more.”
“For the regional finals, the first task was to complete an entry form. I had to list my strengths, my greatest influences and favourite foods.”
A quick glance at her entry tells me that Sam is good at organisation and keeping calm in a stressful service, qualities that you know to be absolutely essential in a busy kitchen. She acknowledges that there are always areas for improvement and that you go on learning constantly.
Her training from Galton comes in for praise and she very properly lists a local dish – young sweet lobster with very well chilled vintage champagne – as her favourite. I am not surprised that the judges were impressed by her application, but the most demanding part was yet to come when Sam went up to St. Helen’s for the Northern Regional Final.
“For this, there were three main parts to the day. Firstly a brief written paper, then four practical tasks were allocated to the candidates.” These included filleting a whole plaice and making an Italian meringue, a notoriously tricky exercise. “And we had to whip the egg whites by hand!” says Sam. In the last and perhaps most difficult section the chefs were given a surprise basket of ingredients, from which to cook a dish for two people. “I decided on a chicken mousse made from one breast of a whole chicken, and then I roasted the other breast. I made a stock from the legs and used it for chicken consommé, served with deep fried parsley. Although I was incredibly nervous, I knew I’d done the best I’m capable of.”